Kenya’s war on Al-Shabaab dealing blow to illegal trade

Kenya’s military campaign against Somalia’s Al-Shabaab has turned out to be a bold operation aimed at combating illegal trade that has weighed down on the country’s economy.

The operation, motivated by insecurity posed by the insurgents, is expected to deter illegal fishing, smuggling and piracy which have robbed Kenyan manufactured goods of their competitive edge in the local and regional market. 

The UN and various environmental reports have linked insecurity in Somalia to the booming illegal, unregulated and unregistered (IUU) fishing along both Kenya’s and Somalia’s Indian Ocean territorial waters, smuggling of counterfeits into the region, and piracy activities along the gulf of Eden. 

Attract investors

Halting attacks by Al-Shabaab would attract investors keen to start operations in the highly lucrative but unexploited resource base in Kenya’s  Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ). 

“Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zone was extended to 350 nautical miles, but as a country we’ve not been able to tap even the potential of the earlier 200 nautical miles due lack of resources and insecurity brought about by Somalia piracy,” said Charles Magori, head of the Marine, Environmental and Ecology Research programme at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI).

Dr Magori said that investment in EEZ resources is capital intensive and international investors can only come in once the country has assessed the fish stock and curbed illegal fishing.

Other than fishing, potential resources of EEZ include petroleum and gas, iron-manganese nodules and crusts (manganese, copper, cobalt and nickel), polymetallic sulphides, and placer deposits.

Others are phosphorite deposits, methane, and biomedical resources. 

Statistics from KEMFRI indicate that fish from the Indian Ocean constitute only four per cent of the country’s stock, which translates to about 700 tonnes.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that the country has 32,000 tonnes of fish onshore and 10,000 tonnes offshore.

The last fish stock assessment report was prepared by FOA in 1980 and fishery researchers say that the stock could have dwindled due to fish poaching.   

Similar assessment exercises by FAO, dubbed South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (SWIFP), and Gulhas and Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystems (ASCLME) that kicked off last year were suspended due to insecurity, dealing a major blow to the country’s quest to market her EEZ to international investors. 

“We can only convince international investors to put their money in this sector if there is security, but as it stands the people benefiting are the IUU vessel owners. In their pursuit of Al-Shabaab (the navy) has also scared away illegal fishing ships,” said Dr Magori. 

Ms Ester Fondo, a senior researcher at KEMFRI, said they expect Operation Linda Nchi to make Kenya’s territorial waters safe to allow research on fish to continue. 

“Kenya, like many African nations, does not have capacity to protect their EEZ, but once the military operation is successful and a coast guard is established, Kenya can be marketed as East Africa’s fishery hub,” said Ms Fondo. 

A destabilised Al-Shabaab, which controls banditry and smuggling activities from the port of Kismayu, is also expected to be a relief to local manufacturers who have to contend with competition from smuggled goods through Somalia harbours. Al-Shabaab charges much lower taxes for goods coming in through Kismayu port some of which is smuggled into Kenya.

According to Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) executive director Betty Maina, smuggling of goods through porous borders has adversely effected the industry.

“I don’t have statistics, but smuggling through our borders is a big problem that has continued to rob locally manufactured goods an edge in the market,” said Ms Maina.

Termites at Work; a Report on Transnational Organised Crime and State Erosion in Kenya, released a fortnight ago indicates that the counterfeit industry is worth Sh70 billion.

The most frequently used smuggling points in Kenya are the coastal settlements of Vanga, Lunga Lunga, Ghala Island, Kinondo, Gazi, Bodo, Majoreni, Mokowe, Lamu, Takaungu, Kipini, Kiunga, Kiwayu, and Mombasa Old Port.

“Some shippers whose products have been declared not fit for import at the port of loading by Kebs agents and issued with Non Conformity Report (NCR) see Somalia as the safest route to bring in those goods. Once they arrive they are sneaked into the country by small vessels through unmanned landing sites,” said a local customs agent, who sorts anonymity.

A stable administrative authority in Somalia, said the agent, would reduce the volume of counterfeit goods smuggled into the country through her ports.